Director Ridley Scott's grim sci-fi thriller, "Prometheus," about a circa 2089 voyage to outer space in search of humankind's roots, sent me hurtling back a few eons to Professor Halberstoddter's class at Olde Ivy Film Criticism College, lecture #53, May 19, 1967. The good doctor wanted to give us something to contemplate over the summer hiatus.
"Sometimes it will happen," he began, in his perfect Viennese accent, addressing the entire class, but staring at me, "that the movie you are to review, while done well, maybe even perfectly, just isn't your cup of demitasse. So, what do you do? Is it a prejudice, or a valid artistic opinion? And who are you anyway? Go home now...tell me in September."
Truth is, I'm still mulling the question...the only saving grace being that, unlike the much larger quandary Scott's dark foray into the Big Question comes face-to-face with, the fate of the human race hardly hinges on my answer. Still, be warned, sci-fi fans: This isn't pure escapist fantasy in the usual sense. It is solemn fiction with a vengeance.
Employing the entire body of clichés that this genre niche has accrued over the last sixty or so cinema years, there is cynicism in the telling, and even among the intrepid crew's few idealists. Yes, they want to find out some scientific stuff, but there's no doubt the sponsoring Weyland Industries has another reason for spending billions on the mission.
It all starts off with a discovery of startling cave drawings on Earth. And here we were thinking all those lurid TV shows about aliens visiting us way back in the day were just a bunch of hooey. Well, Weyland certainly didn't think so, and he succinctly tells the gang that in his postmortem, holographic missive. Whoa! He is/was one spooky dude.
In his employ on the title spacecraft is the usual gaggle of varied types, each quick to delineate why the trip is either momentous, purely for profit, foolhardy, or actually fronting for some secret agenda. In other words, they're a microcosm of how regular people react to everyday events. For good measure, there's a neutral observer aboard.
He is David, splendidly evinced by Michael Fassbender in the style of all robot personae thrown among us as a contrast aimed to point out our spiritual and emotional nature. Only slightly more human is Charlize Theron as the no-nonsense, ice cold Meredith Vickers, leader of the expedition and ambitious heir apparent to the controlling reins at Weyland.
Representing the more optimist wing of humanity are Logan Marshall-Green's Charlie Holloway, a sensitive archeologist, and lead protagonist Dr. Elizabeth Shaw, played by Noomi Rapace. Psst! They're an item. But, just to toss one more conundrum into the mix, while he loves her, she, alas, can't fully love anyone. Oh, she does believe in the Deity.
In any case, once things begin to go bump in the seemingly perennial night, it becomes clear to us that, for all the modern wizardry at play, it all boils down to the same old guessing game. Who will be left standing at film's end, and does it leave the door open for a sequel? The answer to the first inquiry: It figures. To the second question: Duh!
The thing is, as matters progress, although regress is more apt, the pessimism begins to weigh on you. Director Scott, via the intricate ins and outs of a world so unremittingly depressing and contentious, doubtless has a vision. However, whatever it is, it's probably as cryptic as the shadowy mystery he wants us to believe resides at the heart of his film.
Now, granted, I'm all for adventure and finding out the secret of life. And I'd like to think that if I were resident scribe on Columbus’s first voyage, I wouldn't be among the Turn Back contingent. But this is sci-fi, not a documentary, and a tad too self important. So, at the risk of being a bit cynical myself, I am confident the Big Answer is not here.
C'mon man, aliens never visited Earth and finagled around with our destiny. If they had, they would have bought real estate like crazy. You see, it's the same as with superstition and a belief in tall tales. For some folks, any nutty explanation is far more preferable to the anathema of never ever knowing from whence we came and where we’re going.
Still, per my Hypocritical Oath at Olde Ivy to be just, this is a fine madness, its gloom and doom exquisitely crafted. But gee, with nary a bit of comedy relief, it sure takes itself way too seriously. And as I'm already full up with millenniums of baloney to be against, I just can't get fired up by the unsavory rehash of myths proffered by "Prometheus."
"Prometheus," rated R, is a Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation release directed by Ridley Scott and stars Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender. Running time: 124 minutes